Pay up or else?                                                                                                  Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg
Pay up or else?                                                                                                  Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

"I don't know why you would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men, and then deny that that's not always happening out there," said President Barack Obama in April.

Obama affects a tone of incredulity when anyone suggests that employer discrimination is not the main reason for the gender pay gap, or that tightening the screws on employers isn't the right response to it.

He says that congressional Republicans could prove "they do care about women being paid the same as men" by supporting legislation to make it easier to sue employers for pay discrimination. "They can start tomorrow. They can join us in this, the 21st century."

You know who else could do something tomorrow to prove he cares about women being paid fairly? President Barack Obama. In his White House, women make 87 percent of what men do, the Washington Post reported, noting that the statistic hasn't risen during his years in office. The average man makes about $86,000 while the average woman earns about $78,400.

Jessica Santillo, a White House spokeswoman, told the Post, "we have equal pay for equal work." Men in the White House just have more senior roles than women on average, which explains the gap.

That's good enough for some of the administration's feminist supporters. Michele Leber, the chairwoman of the National Committee on Pay Equity, says the White House pay gap "is caused by more women at lower experience levels."

Maybe that's a good excuse. Managing a workplace is tricky. Maybe even a conscientious manager can't find as many qualified women as men to do top-level jobs. But is that an excuse feminist pressure groups generally accept from corporate executives?

When the White House is arguing for exposing companies to more lawsuits for gender discrimination, it routinely cites statistics on the gender pay gap that don't correct for experience levels, occupational choices, college majors, hours worked per week or other factors.

Real life turns out to be a bit more complicated than the administration's rhetoric. Will the president's oratory on this issue become a bit less sanctimonious as a result? Probably not.

To contact the writer of this article: Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this column: Timothy Lavin at tlavin1@bloomberg.net.